Some neighbors hope to drum up financial, political support to prevent housing development near Underhill Park
Thu., Oct. 21, 2021
Underhill Park neighbor Sam Mace walks her dog Jackson through the forested natural area on the hillside above the park in East Central Spokane earlier this month. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
East Central residents hoping to prevent construction of seven homes on wooded, private land adjacent to Underhill Park will have a chance to make their pitch and potentially raise some money over the next month.
Sam Mace, who lives just below the hill where builders hope to carve a road and construct Ben Burr Estates, a housing development, said she’s been in talks with the owners about buying them out and has set a goal of $50,000 by December. Formal fundraising hasn’t begun because the neighbors may seek grants or other money to assist them in finding the financial backing to stop development.
“I think people are pretty fired up,” Mace said.
The land includes a city right-of-way that has long been used to bring 10th Avenue west to the border of the historic park. The land has already been zoned for single-family residential development, meaning the developer would not need to seek any land-use changes that would prompt citizen involvement.
Still, Mace said a group of dedicated neighbors has formed within the East Central Neighborhood Association and is looking to make its case to members of the Spokane Park Board at a monthly meeting in November.
“We love the fact that people are rallying,” said Jennifer Ogden, president of the Park Board, on Wednesday. She noted there is a lengthy process for the Park Board to consider purchasing any land, and that such funds aren’t available right now. But the board will listen to the neighbor’s proposal, she said.
Mace also hopes to get Spokane City Council buy-in for preserving the land’s current use.
“We need people saying this would be a benefit to the park and neighborhood,” she said.
The Spokane City Council members representing the neighborhood, however, said they didn’t believe it was their role to advocate one way or the other.
City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who represents the neighborhood at City Hall, said she applauded Mace’s enthusiasm. But the longtime East Central resident also called the area “a good site” for development after visiting it for herself.
“If they can raise it, have at it,” Wilkerson said of fundraising efforts. “But really looking at it holistically, it’s a great piece of land. It’s close to a park, and we’ve got the Ben Burr Trail right there.”
City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear echoed the city’s Public Works Department, noting that the proposed use of the land was consistent with zoning and the roads and other infrastructure they plan to build on the site.
“The infrastructure will support the seven houses, which could accommodate up to 25 or so people,” she said. “That’s a fair number of people.”
If tree cover is a concern, Kinnear said neighbors should encourage developers to take advantage of urban forestry incentives she worked to include in city law.
Neighbors are scheduled to make their pitch to the Lands Committee of the Spokane Park Board at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 3.
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